Monday, April 29, 2013

The Year Without Summer: 1816 (William and Nicholas Klingaman)

As many people know, I actually have two Bachelor degrees--one in history, the other one in literary studies (aka literature). And both of my degrees are generalist degrees; the University of Colorado at Denver is not set up to specialize one's degree (not that I didn't end up with some areas that were more well-known than others). Therefore, I feel that I am the perfect person to review the book, The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History (William K. Klingaman & Nicholas P. Klingaman).

The book starts off with an account of the April 5, 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora. It is an event that even knowing something of modern meteorology (it was something of a childhood hobby) that I would not immediately associate with the effect on the weather that it caused. And at the time, no one alive had a clue what caused the strange weather that occurred the following summer with cold temperatures, strange rain and snow patterns, followed by vast crop failures; this led to people praying for better weather--if it was to happen today, I would imagine some of the same wild theories that were put forth in 1816 to be dusted off and put forth despite modern science.

In 1816, many of the people that one encounters in Revolutionary History (both American and French) were alive and writing their impressions of the year. So were many of the writers one encounters in Gothic and English literary studies (ex. Jane Austen). In fact, reading this book brings another layer to Frankenstein, a book that I had to read four times during the course of my literature program--I would like to argue that some of the weather that one encounters in that book was actually based on the strange weather of 1816; if nothing else, it caused Mary Shelley to stay inside a lot, something that tends to force writers to work on their craft.

Due to the wideness of my studies, I can see how Klingaman could argue that the events of 1816 had long term effects on politics (for instance, in emigration, and attitudes and governmental policies dealing with poverty). But the long term effects tend not to be well-spelled out by the authors--I am not sure that someone who wasn't exposed to the strange mixture of classes I endured will be able to see the long term effects. Still if one is actually interested in the era, hopefully one can fill in the blanks.

This book quotes heavily from primary sources, and the bibliography is excellent; I was able to easily follow up on something that I became curious about while reading the book. I wish that the book had an index; if I ever have to use the book to support one of my wild theories (either in history or literature), I fear that I might have to re-read the entire book--not that would be a problem, it is just not something you want to have to do while fulfilling your Masters program. (Yes, I know that the Masters program is supposed to be a lot of reading; but considering how much is already piled on one's desk walking in, one wants to have indexes handy.)

In places, I will admit that I was not completely invested in finishing the book, or remembering what it said--it is a history book, of course, it gets dull if you do not already know the players involved. Between the lack of an index and those spots, this book should get only four stars; but the overview of a single year (a little about 1815 and 1817) was generally interesting enough that as soon as my wallet recovers, I suspect that I am going to hunt down other books by William Klingaman--therefore, I am going to give it the full five stars.

[This review was based on an Advance Reader Copy that I won in a Goodreads contest.]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Scar and the Wolf (Plainfield Press)

I have a question for Plainfield Press: Have you met my god-daughter? I ask because Scarlet does a pretty good impression of her. Or maybe it is that all tweens act the same way. (she is just entering her tweens.) Either way, I had to laugh because Scarlet reminded me of my god-daughter. Especially the idea of having to do chores on your special day.

This is a book that I am surprised actually works. The idea of taking the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, and making it a story starring zombies, well, I just could not figure out how that was going to work. But it does.

And they are zombies that I actually like. They are funny zombies, and the world has a certain type of logic to it. "Don't eat the [cleaning] beetles." There is also plenty of sentences that I like as a writer...because as writers, we play with words and language. And I laughed at the chapter title: The cloak smelled like squirrel pee--it sounds like something that one of my friends would write.

I would definitely recommend this book...I just not sure that I agree with the grades 3 to 7 label; it feels a touch younger than grade 3 to me. Of course, I imagine that this story would be a hoot to read out loud. If nothing else, it has its gross moments--gross as in "Listen, this is really gross." "Yuck!" So maybe, it is grade 3, or maybe not.

I definitely believe that this story (and the others that are sure to follow) will find a set of loyal readers. I presume that Moldylocks will actually find bears.

I am giving it five stars.

[Disclosure: I received an ebook copy of this book from Plainfield Press.]

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities (ChamberProof)

I got this (A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities--by ChamberProof?) on a free day, and honestly even then it might have been overpriced. While I normally like silly dictionary style books, this one seems to be repeating the same blue jokes over and over again. And I do mean blue jokes. There is also the fact that quite a few of them depend upon you knowing British politics to understand, which I don't. My advice is to give this one a miss. It gets a whole one star out of the five.

I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company (Karen Phelan)

One of the frustrating things that I experienced while in the restaurant business was the one size fits all management model. A few times a year, a district manager would come up, perform an inspection, tell you what you were doing wrong (based on your sales figures, the extent that the store was clean, and the previous hour of watching only the best employees). The restaurant would prep for the entire week before such an inspection, cleaning things that had not been cleaned since the last inspection; the very worst employees were conveniently given the day off. And none of the advice, one was given by the district manager could actually be used. As an employee, I hated the whole routine.

I learned to hate the whole routine even more when I became a restaurant manager. I had the misfortune of being in the only location of a restaurant chain located in a business district, rather than a shopping mall. For instance, one would be given the advice to "Sample and coupon. Sample and coupon. Sample and coupon." This advice worked great at the shopping malls. It did not work at all where I was managing--coupons just lowered sales figures; it turns out that all our customers knew where we were already, and therefore it was just the loss of a warm body that you could have used in more productive ways and of lower total ticket sales than you would have got otherwise because the only coupons used were by people who were already coming to buy something.

Nevertheless, the advice of the district manager, or owner of a chain, was considered holy writ...even if you know ahead of time that it would not work. Woe be he who openly pointed out the fact that the advice was unsound for the situation at hand. And talking to my customers, I learned that we were all putting up with such antics.

Karen Phelan, in her book, I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company: When Management Consultants Are the Problem, Not the Solution, basically explains why such antics are put forth by companies as the correct behavior. She also explained why I could not get promoted to restaurant manager without becoming the last man standing--oh, I was less than perfect kitchen help and cashier--ironically, I was a really good manager despite the fact that I was not perfect in the previous positions.

I would recommend  this book to anyone trying to understand why consultants (and district managers) tend to make things worse...or at least, harder to actually accomplish anything. I would also recommend it to anyone who thinks that hiring a business consultant is a magic bullet that is going to increase their bottom line and/or save their business.

I am giving this book five stars.

[Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author in a GoodReads First Reads giveway.]